Song Review: George Strait, “The Weight Of The Badge”

Does a song get half credit for only telling half a story?

George Strait had a splashy debut for his last single “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar,” but the song basically never moved from that spot, and he had to settle for a #17 airplay peak and a moral victory for older artists everywhere. Strait is still the king, however, and the mainstream sound is still bending back in his direction, so could another single break through the blockade and achieve a better outcome? We’re about to find out, as Strait has now released “The Weight Of The Badge” to radio, the second official single from his Honky Tonk Time Machine album. Personally, I’d stick this tune in the same bin as Justin Moore’s “The Ones Who Couldn’t Make It Back Home”: A cheap, forgettable attempt to use peace officers to tug at our heartstrings, and a song that sorely lacks the nuance this subject really needs.

The production is suitably sparse and somber for the occasion, setting a serious mood for the writing. The song opens with a simple acoustic guitar, and then slowly builds up to the neotraditional arrangement we expect from Strait: First the fiddle enters, then the steel guitar, and eventually a keyboard and some deep, subdued electric guitars to add some weight to the background. (There’s percussion here, but it’s so quiet here that it might as well have been left out entirely.) The resulting atmosphere is one is equal parts foreboding and steadfast, inviting reflection from the listener and making its declaration that the job, regardless of how tough it is, will be done with quiet confidence. I actually think this was a sub-optimal choice, however, because inviting the listener to contemplate the lyrics leads them straight to the glaring hole in the story (which we’ll talk about later). Instead, I would have turned up the volume, made the vibe so emotional it borders on cheesy, and gone straight for the feels, replacing rational thought with syrupy sentimentality. By exercising restraint and giving the listener room to think, however, it makes people realize how incomplete the song really is.

What do you mean by “incomplete”? I hear you ask. In a nutshell, the major issue with the writing is that is only tells half of the story when bringing in a wider perspective would have made for a more thoughtful and impactful song. The story approaches the life of a police officer from the obvious angle: These men and women are in a dangerous line of work, they put their lives on the line every day to keep the public safe, and that they deserve special recognition for holding up under “the weight of the badge.” That’s all true, and officers and their families bear a heavy burden knowing their love one may die in the line of duty, but there’s more to the story than that: In recent years, several highprofile shooting incidents have revealed that the police can be part of the problem, and that communities may fear those who “serve and protect” them as much as they fear those who they’re being protected against. To me, that is the true “weight of the badge”: Maintaining that balance between protecting your community and protecting yourself, and knowing that the wrong move in either direction could lead to the death of an innocent person. Acknowledging that balance and facing it with understanding and humility would have put this song on a different level for its insight and incisiveness (not to mention easily one of the best songs of the year), but instead the track took the easy way out and uses fairly stock imagery to ask us to honor those who work in this line of duty. Such sentiment is becoming so prevalent that it’s starting to feel like a throwaway line (think Moore’s random shoutout to the armed forces in “Why We Drink” or Cole Swindell’s similar statement on “You Ain’t Worth The Whiskey”), and while I wouldn’t call it bad, I wouldn’t call it memorable or meaningful either.

Strait’s performance is kind of middle-of-the-road here, as he makes his contribution to the song more through his stature than through his singing. If you gave this song to a Moore or a Swindell or even someone like Luke Bryan, that “throwaway” feeling I mentioned earlier would be a lot stronger, as they just wouldn’t feel as earnest or believable telling the narrator’s story. Strait, however, is George Freaking Strait, and his words carry more weight than anyone in the genre (outside of possibly Alan Jackson), so when he calls on you to show some respect to people in the line of fire, you don’t ask too many questions⁠—you just do it. Even so, the song gives the audience so much space to think about the police and their role in society that not even Strait can cajole listeners into blind obedience: This is a serious topic, and we’re going to make up our own darn minds about it, thank you very much. Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot to say: Strait’s signature tone and charm are here as usual, but I don’t feel like they add anything to the song. (If someone else sang this song, it would feel different, but it wouldn’t sound different.) As good as Strait is, I think he’s in a little over his head here, especially with so little support from the writing.

“The Weight Of The Badge” is such a deep and nuanced topic that it would be nearly impossible to do it justice in a single song, but even so I wish that this attempt had been a bit more thorough and well-rounded. The production grasps the serious nature of the subject, but the writing barely scratches the surface and only serves up boilerplate scenes and lightweight platitudes, and even George Strait can’t lift this thing beyond the realm of radio filler. It’s a nice sentiment and all, but there’s so much that needs to be unpacked when taking on a subject like this, and this track leaves that job half-finished. It’s the sonic equivalent of a Hallmark card: You’ll hear it, you’ll think “That’s nice,” and then you’ll throw it in the trash and never think about it again.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not really worth your time.

Song Review: George Strait, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar”

It’s been said that the young men must overcome what he does not know, whereas the old man must overcome what he can no longer do. However, the only thing George Strait can no longer do is S-P-E-L.

In 2019, “King” George Strait stands as the oft-namechecked gold standard in country music, and his name sits on the short list of artists (Williams, Arnold, Jones, Brooks, and perhaps a few others) as one of the greatest in country music history. However, the radio sounds a lot different than when Strait ceased to be a major factor on it back in the early 2010s, as the genre has been jumping from trend to trend in search of its next big score. Now, in the Nashville equivalent of Pope Emeritus Benedict stepping back into the Vatican to issue a rebuttal to all of Pope Francis’s decrees, Strait has stepped back up to the mic to tell people what really happens in “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” across the country. Instead of leaning on the sleazy pick-up culture that permeates much of modern country, Strait does what he’s always done, delivering a neotraditional, line-dance-ready track that offers a view of more than just the pretty woman at the bar.

If you’ve heard a George Strait song within the last twenty-five years or so, you know exactly what’s coming: Guitars with equal parts texture and sizzle, copious amounts of fiddle and steel guitar, real drums with some punch, and some other instruments (piano, organ) for some background atmosphere. If there were ever a song that passed the context test, this would be it: Not only does it sound exactly like the type of song you would hear in every barroom and beer joint in the world, but its bright tone and two-step tempo make it the perfect tune to usher in the next line-dancing craze. It’s the kind of old-fashioned stomper that Strait has made a living off of for decades (it reminds me a lot of “Here For A Good Time,” actually), and when it’s executed this cleanly, there’s not here you can complain about.

For a sixty-six-year-old man, Strait’s voice sounds remarkably similar to that of his 90s/00s heyday. It doesn’t have quite the power that it used to, but its tone and range (especially that dive into the basement at the very end) are remarkable, and holy cow, since when did George freaking Strait show off this kind of flow? (For a stone-cold cowboy, this dude can flat-out spit.) Strait’s charisma and charm are basically a given at this point, and after almost forty years in mainstream country music are who-known-how-many songs set inside a bar, Strait is a leading authority on what takes place inside your typical honky tonk, giving the listener no reason to doubt him and no choice but to tap their toes to the beat. (He’s also got more than enough authority to credibly namedrop other artists, even ones like Hank Williams Sr.) The only surprise here is how well Strait’s voice has held up over time (I have to admit, all that autotuning from a few years ago had me worried), and how even now he retains the skill and the authority to get the job done.

The lyrics are probably the least impressive part of the song, as describing the inner workings of a honky tonk isn’t exactly the most novel topic in the world (booze, smoke, waitresses, amateur parking lot bouts…yep, they’re all here). Still, I’m impressed by the interesting metaphors used to spice up the generic scene:

Whiskey is the gasoline that lights the fire that burns the bridge
Ice creates the water that’s no longer runnin’ under it
Stool holds the fool that pours the whiskey on his broken heart

Unlike, say, “A Girl Like You,” the writing here at least tries to put a fresh spin on the comings and goings here. That said, not every observation has a clever twist on it, and the narrator has an inexplicable inability to spell (“L-I-V-N livin’,” “D-R-A-G-N draggin'”), which makes no sense given the pace of the lyrics—I mean, you practically make Strait rap on the verses, and then can’t be bothered to fit a few more letters into your chorus? In the end, the writing is just a vehicle for Strait and the producer to drop some neotraditional charm onto the radio, and it leaves just enough hooks for the singer and sound to do just that.

Much like it’s subject matter, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” isn’t a song written for critics. It’s a song for people to enjoy while they’re having a good time, and George Strait can work this angle as well as anyone in the business, even when he’s eligible for Social Security. The prodution captures Strait’s signature sound perfectly to capitalize on the current 90s nostalgia trend, and the lyrics give King George plenty of space to do what he does best. It’s not “Rednecks, White Socks And Blue Ribbon Beer,” but in a world filled with slick, sleazy pickup songs, I’ll gladly take it.

Rating: 8/10. I overrated a similar song from Garth Brooks last year, but I like this one better and it feels like it’s got more staying power. Definitely check it out.